How do I help my child with homework?

For your child to manage their homework successfully the most important thing is that they have dedicated time and space to do it. Set aside an hour or two when they arrive home from school and make sure that they have a desk in their room or that space is cleared on the kitchen table. Remove any distractions such as television and make sure they are able to focus on their work.

Your child should have a homework diary or planner which you can check weekly and sign to show their teachers that you have seen it. If there isn't one ask the school if you can have details of when and how often homework is set.

How do I talk to my child about puberty and gender related issues?

Talking to your child about growing up can be difficult for many parents, but especially so if you are raising boys as a single woman or girls as a single man. Tackling issues such as periods, wet dreams and other gender related issues are undoubtedly easier when one has personal experience. This is one reason why remaining on amicable terms with your ex is ideal if possible. Alternatively consider approaching a trusted friend or relative of the opposite sex to be on hand to answer your teenager's questions as they occur.

If you have a daughter it is important that you talk about menstruation before the onset of puberty as you don't want her to be shocked when she gets her first period. Remember that girls can start their periods as young as 10 or 11. Similarly with boys, it is best to prepare them for the sort of changes their body is likely to go through but discuss puberty tactfully as young children can be easily embarrassed when talking about their bodies.

As your children get older don't shy away from the subject of sex. Discuss the physical aspects including the risks associated with unprotected sex, being as accurate and to the point as you can. Discuss also the emotional aspects and explain that feelings can sometimes be difficult to deal with. Emphasise to your child that they should not feel pressured into sex before they are ready and that they have the right to say no to anything they don't want to do.

Approach your child's school and find out what the sex education program entails. It should cover puberty and sexual health with a strong emphasis on the emotional aspects of forming a relationship. Ask for a copy of any materials provided and use these as a basis to talk to your child.

If you have any serious concerns, for example that your child is not developing properly or has severe period pains, contact the school nurse or your GP for further guidance.

How do I know which sanitary products to buy for my daughter?

If you are a single dad and are having problems knowing what to buy here is quick guide:

Sanitary pads or towels come in different sizes and are designed for use at different times of the day, according to how heavy the flow is and whether you want the extra protection of wings, a dry weave top sheet for comfort or your bog standard thick sanitary towel which isn't particularly comfortable but doesn't cost an arm and a leg - confused? We haven't even started yet!

Look for sanitary pads that say "normal" as a starting point. Check the back of the packet to make sure that they are for "normal flow" or "medium absorbency". Sanitary pads that say "ultra" or "ultra thin" do exactly same as the larger ones but have better absorbency meaning that they are not as bulky. You should keep a packet of these in the house so you are prepared when your daughter starts her first period.

From now on you will need to buy a range of products for your daughter as her flow will vary from the start to the end of each period. Go for a packet of normal and heavy or nighttime pads. You can also buy pantiliners as these are extremely thin and are worn when the period is due or at the end of the period when it is almost finished.

Tampons and tampax are sanitary products which are inserted - a bit like a plug to stop the flow reaching the outside. Your daughter will probably not want to use these until she is used to having her period and a little bit more experienced. She should have a talk at school and a free sample at some point so leave it to her to decide if she wants to use these. However be aware that there is a very small risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome and tampon wearers should be aware of the symptoms just incase. See the links below for more details.

Well - there it is, a quick guide to sanitary protection - if you're still uncertain talk to your pharmacist or even better give your daughter an allowance and let her buy her own!

How do I arrange a children's birthday party?

First discuss with your child what they would like to do on their birthday. Ask them if they have any ideas about the sort of party they would want. Decide whether it will be at home or out at a venue that can arrange a children's party for you. Set a limit to the number of guests your child can invite according to your budget and space available.

Look through the local newspaper and telephone directory for ideas. Fast food restaurants, bowling allies, children's indoor play parks and sports centers are the kind of places where children's parties can be booked. The bonus is that your house doesn't get trashed, you don't have to prepare food other than perhaps a birthday cake and the children are entertained. Ring and book the venue well in advance and ask them to send through invitations. Find out what is included in the price and whether you need to tell them what the children want to eat in advance.

If you are having the party at home consider entertainment, will you get an entertainer in or play traditional party games? Again look through the local paper or telephone directory but remember that children's entertainers are usually very busy and will need to booked sometime in advance. You may want to have a themed party, talk to your child about this. Get some party decorations - balloons tied to the front door will help guests to find your home.

Keep the food simple, for example pizza, sausage rolls, crisps, ice-cream, biscuits and cake. Make sure that you cater for vegetarians. Soft drinks are better than fizzy. you don't want excited children running around with a belly full of fizzy pop!

Send the invitations out with an RSVP in the form of a reply slip and telephone number. Invite some adults, close friends and family, so that they enjoy your child's birthday whilst offering a helping hand! If you are catering at home you could then share the food preparation with everyone contributing something.

Buy a birthday cake and make sure that you have enough candles, candle holders and matches. Organise enough party bags for each child to take home after the party - fill each with a few sweets, a balloon, a small toy such as a whistle or bouncy ball and have enough serviettes to put a piece of birthday cake in each when you cut it on the day. Finally, make sure that you have a working camera or camcorder - you will want a record of your child's special day.

How do I choose a suitable birthday present?

Buy vouchers - they're easier, you can't get it wrong and your child will love choosing their own present. For teenagers clothing vouchers are best... never ever buy a teenager clothes unless they have told you exactly what they want. Get the wrong size and you could cause major offence and ask yourself, did you ever like the clothes your parents chose for you?

If you do want to buy a present ask them to make a list of what they might want for their birthday. This way you can choose and know you have got it right. Talk to your ex to make sure you don't duplicate and always keep the receipt just incase. Remember not to buy anything with small parts for under threes - go for bright, coloured interactive toys. For young children activity based toys, paints, art sets, construction or chocolate and jewellery making kits are a big hit. For older children a CD, book or poster on their favourite pop or film star. Find a small, independent music store as these are great places to find limited editions and memorabilia.

For older teenagers you may want to give a memorable present such as cinema, theatre or concert tickets, an activity day out e.g. kart racing, a makeover or beauty treatment. Remember when booking tickets to ensure that your child will be available for the event.

How can I protect my child from harm and bullying?

Bullying:

* Instill a sense of confidence into your child. Praise them for their achievements and let them know that they are appreciated and loved. A child who is happy with themselves is less likely to allow others to get them down.

* Keep the lines of communication open. Ask your child what is happening at school and remain actively interested in what is going on in their life. Remain approachable but do not overact when you hear something that concerns you - you are much more likely to get to the bottom of any problems if you remain calm and rational which is not always easy to do!

* If you suspect that there is a problem talk to your child. Let them know that you are on their side but listen to them carefully, they may have concerns about reprisals if you steam in demanding action.

* If bullying is taking place in or on the way to school discuss the problem with your child's teacher. You could also casually ask their friends what is happening at school but be subtle in your approach.

Personal Safety:

* As your child gets older talk to them about the danger from strangers and reassure them that they can talk to you about anything. Explain what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour from another grown-up or child and that they should not keep secrets if it is causing them distress or upset. The websites below can offer specific advice and leaflets for children of all ages to help you explain the dangers of abuse and how to keep children safe from harm.

* Make sure that your child is aware of their rights, for example they have the right to their own personal space, not to be called names, not to be pressured into doing what they don't want to do etc. 

* Get safety features installed on your computer for internet access. Most internet service providers will have child friendly settings. You should monitor where your child is surfing and never let them use a chat room - you can never be certain who they are talking to.

* As your child gets older and wants more freedom set ground rules, for example what time they should be home, how they should get to and from where they are going and that they should be readily contactable through a friend's or mobile telephone. If they are going to be late insist that they contact you.

How can I mend my teenager's broken heart?

Most importantly remember what it is like to be a teenager. The emotions involved can be very intense and it may seem like the end of the world to your child, even if you can rationalise that they will get over it in time. Never make light of it or simply dismiss their feelings as insignificant.

Just be there and guide them through it - it's a learning experience and hopefully they will come to see that themselves in time.